Leading by Example, Repairing New Orleans' Government, And Race to the Top Reforms
Plus: Who to follow on Twitter, and more management news
Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel has already been pushing for ways to get cars out of crowded city streets. He was recently quoted by the Chicago Sun-Times as saying, "I plan, as mayor, to continue periodically to take mass transit. I also will walk. I'm a big biker, too. You have to do it by example."
What do you think about that? Should it be part of the job of city and state leaders to serve as public examples at large? Should they all quit smoking? Only drive cars with minimal greenhouse gas emissions? Send their kids to public schools? (That last one is really tricky to us.)
Let us know what you think. We look forward to hearing your comments.
Ouch! The new administration in New Orleans seems genuinely interested, at least from what we've read, in improving the way that city functions on a variety of fronts. The city has hired the Public Strategies Group to take a look at areas for improvement. David Osborne, a senior partner there (and a Governing contributor), had this to say, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "I was kind of shocked. I think [the new administration] inherited the least competent city government I'd ever seen in this country and the most corrupt — a really tough experience. I just haven't run into this level of dysfunction before, and I've been doing this work for almost 25 years."
Obviously we haven't done the research necessary to agree or disagree with Osborne. But when someone of his standing says something this strong, it's surely meaningful.
The federal government's Race to the Top program, which offered states large sums of money for reform programs, only wound up putting cash into 11 states and the District of Columbia. [More from Governing on Race to the Top] But a number of states passed their recommended reforms in anticipation of Race to the Top money that hadn't yet been won. Though the reforms themselves may have been laudable, this is a bit like buying a new car today with the money you're going to win on tomorrow's horse race.
As a result, some states are now trying to figure out how to pay for the reforms — or whether to scrap them altogether.
In Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Mirror, it appears that many reforms will be delayed, at best. The school districts were counting on the federal dollars, as distributed by the state. Without that money, the reforms turn into unfunded mandates — at a time when there are no funds available. "If we find the money then we are happy to push forward with these reforms ... but money is tight," Rep. Andy Fleischmann, co-chairman of the Legislature's Education Committee, told the Mirror.
Of course, advocates of the reforms are pressuring to keep many of them in place. There's ample room for sympathy for people who are disappointed at seeing educational improvements in which they believed yanked out from under them.
Twitter Tips: Are you using Twitter? If so, we thought you might like to see our short list of great people or groups to follow if you're interested in state and local government. This list is entirely drawn from our own experience, so apologies to any and all superior Tweeters we've missed. We've also kept it purposefully short — but if enough people write asking for more recommendations, we'll follow through.
First of all, we'd recommend our own Tweets, found at @greenebarrett.
More than half the nation's doctors have, at some point, sent an apologetic note to a patient when a serious error in their medical treatment has occurred, according to a 2006 study. You've probably guessed that lawyers advise against this practice: It could be used as a kind of admission of guilt in a lawsuit.
But now, some studies, including a report issued by the University of Michigan Health System, actually show that "allowing medical professionals to express their sympathy and apologies actually reduces malpractice lawsuits," according to State Legislatures magazine.
We believe it. And we want to extend the thought a bit. In our experience, a simple "I'm sorry" goes a long, long way toward appeasing people in all kinds of situations. We personally know of at least a few people who have gone to court over a matter largely because they felt they weren't treated reasonably by the other party — specifically, that there was no effort to say "I'm sorry."
Recommendation: Cities, counties and states should train anyone who interacts with the public about when it is reasonable to apologize (and when it's not).
Have we gone on too long? Sorry.
Quote to note: "A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul."
— George Bernard Shaw
Ever watch the television show Undercover Boss? The premise of the program (which, by the way, we love) is that high-level executives go undercover and work in a variety of relatively low-level jobs in their own firms. Inevitably (thanks to skillful editing, we're sure), they make significant discoveries about the way things really work. And in the end, they function like Magic Wizards, heart-warmingly presenting rewards to the misty-eyed employees with whom they work.
Just recently, the show broke with its corporate-world mold and featured a public-sector leader — Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory. It was entertaining, but here's the more important point: When we checked out the comments on Twitter that resulted from the show, the majority talked about the pleasure of seeing how dedicated and hard-working government employees could be.
A lot of B&G Readers seem to be interested in swag. Or at least interested in telling us what they think about spending tax dollars on the coffee mugs, t-shirts and pens that some cities, counties and states give away by the boxload.
When we asked about the practice of using tax dollars on these kinds of things, we received a whole range of responses. We're going to provide a generous sampling in the next B&G Report. But just to give you an idea of the range of comments, here are two very brief excerpts from two notes we received:
"As an elected village official I think swag is a waste of precious tax dollars and resources."
— Gary Springman, Trustee, Brown Deer, Wisc.
"We certainly use promotional items in economic development. We give away canvas bags and little soccer balls (we have two major league soccer teams) at shopping center conferences, and they are great at bringing people in to talk with us. Walk around one of these conferences, and you can see how well these types of things work at getting you traffic."
— Barry Waite, Business and Employment Development Manager, Carson, Calif.
And now for something entirely different. You surely have heard references to legislative bodies functioning like a "bunch of wild animals." To that point, we thought you'd enjoy hearing a bit of primatologist Jane Goodall's greeting to the Illinois state senate. (Thanks to the Sacramento Bee for pointing this out to us.)